Nanaia Mahuta must explain breach of Cabinet Manual

Sun, 17 Jul, 2022

"Despite her protestations, Nanaia Mahuta is caught out in a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual, overseeing the appointment of her niece to a paid position for which she had Ministerial responsibility,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“This is a true breach, for which a Minister in Government deserves to be held accountable. ACT acknowledges that Mahuta has been subject to highly objectionable innuendo and criticism. That behaviour is unacceptable. But it is the responsibility of those who carry it out, it does not give the Minister a free pass for actual wrongdoing on her part.

“In 2019, as then-Minister for Māori Development, Mahuta appointed a Declaration Working Group to advise the Government on its response to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The Group produced He Puapua and the five non-government members of the Group were paid $44,094.80 in total for their work.

“One of the non-government members was Waimirirangi Ormsby. A conflict of interest declaration made by Nanaia Mahuta's husband, Gannin Ormsby, says that Nanaia is the "aunty" of Waimirirangi Ormsby.

“The Cabinet Manual says:

2.65 A conflict may arise if people close to a Minister, such as a Minister’s family, whānau, or close associates, might derive, or be perceived as deriving, some personal, financial, or other benefit from a decision or action by the Minister or the government.

“Ministers are responsible for managing their conflicts of interest and the Cabinet Manual provides the following guidance:

2.66 Similarly, it may not be appropriate for Ministers to participate in decision-making on matters affecting family members, whānau, or close associates, for example, by:

(a) attempting to intercede on their behalf on some official matter;
(b) proposing family members for appointments; or
(c) participating in decisions that will affect the financial position of a family member.

2.67 Public perception is a very important factor. If a conflict arises in relation to the interests of family, whānau, or close associates, Ministers should take appropriate action (see paragraphs 2.73 – 2.74).

“Mahuta decided to manage the conflict of interest by declaring it. But the Cabinet Manual says declaring a conflict of interest is only sufficient in cases where the Minister doesn’t have ministerial responsibility:

Declaration of interest: Where a Minister has a conflict of interest that arises during general decision-making (for example, at a meeting of Cabinet or a Cabinet committee), but the Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for the issue, a declaration of interest will generally be sufficient. Having declared the interest, the Minister should either withdraw from the discussion or seek the agreement of colleagues to continue to take part.

“Mahuta did have ministerial responsibility for appointing the Declaration Working Group and so she needed to do more to manage the conflict of interest than simply declaring it.

“When she became aware that a family member had applied for a position on the Declaration Working Group, Mahuta should have followed the guidance at 2.74 (c) of the Cabinet Manual and transferred responsibility for the issue to another Minister:

(c) Transferring responsibility to another Minister: A Minister with a conflict of interest concerning a particular issue within his or her portfolio may, with the agreement of the Prime Minister, transfer responsibility for that issue to another Minister. In this case, the Minister with the conflict of interest should instruct officials to ensure that departmental briefings and papers on the issue are directed to the other Minister. The Minister with the conflict will also need to declare the interest if the matter is discussed at Cabinet or a Cabinet committee, and should consider whether it is appropriate to receive Cabinet or Cabinet committee papers on the issue, or to remain at the meeting.

“Mahuta does not appear to have done this.

“In short, Mahuta has overseen a process in which one of her family members was appointed to a government working group and was paid for it. This apparent conflict of interest was not adequately managed.

“New Zealanders rightly expect that the family members of Cabinet Ministers will not derive some benefit from the decisions or actions of those Cabinet Ministers, such as being proposing for appointments.

“The Prime Minister needs to explain, how she can be comfortable with a Minister who appears to have appointed her niece to a paid Government position."